When I first started bicycle touring, I knew that I needed to travel with my laptop but wasn’t sure how best to go about packing it. It’s an expensive, bulky, and relatively fragile piece of equipment, after all. I ended up experimenting with a few different methods to find the best solution. In this guide, I describe how to carry a laptop while bicycle touring and bikepacking.
The best way to carry a laptop while bicycle touring or bikepacking depends on:
- The size of your laptop- An 11 inch laptop is much easier to pack than a 17 inch laptop, for example.
- Whether you use panniers or bikepacking bags- Generally panniers make carrying a laptop much easier. Bikepacking bags are a bit more limiting. For more info, check out my panniers vs bikepacking bags pros and cons list.
- Type of riding that you do- If you travel off-road, you’ll have to put more consideration into a suspension or padding system, for example.
While packing your laptop on your bike, no matter which method you use, there are 2 things you need to keep in mind to avoid causing any damage to your device during the tour.
- Moisture- You must pack your laptop in a way that it can’t get wet. Everyone knows that water and electronics do not mix. You also want to avoid exposing it to too much humidity.
- Vibrations and shocks- Laptops are kind of fragile. Particularly hard drives. Even if your laptop uses an SSD you want to avoid shaking it around too much. After enough shock and vibration, adhesives and screws can work their way loose and eventually cause the laptop to fail.
How to Carry a Laptop in Your Panniers While Bicycle Touring
The following method works for almost all laptops that are 15 inches or smaller. If you’re using bikepacking bags instead of panniers, click here to skip to the second half of this guide.
1. Turn Your Laptop Off
Even if you only tour on roads, your computer will shake around quite a bit during your ride. It’s best to turn it off before packing it away. This is particularly important if your laptop uses an HDD. These use rotating plates to store your data. They can fail if they get shaken around too much. You don’t want to lose any data.
Another reason to turn off your laptop before packing it is to avoid excessive heat buildup. Even while sitting idle, your computer puts out some heat. You don’t want it to get too hot while it’s packed away. This could cause damage as well.
2. Place Your Laptop in a Padded Sleeve for Protection
This helps to protect your laptop from vibration, shocks, and bumps. Look for a sleeve with a decent amount of padding built-in. Consider a sleeve with a hard outer shell for additional protection.
I like this Hardshell Protective Laptop Case. It’s made of a rigid outer material to protect your laptop from impacts and drops. It also offers water resistance. This case comes in a range of sizes to fit most any laptop between 9.7 and 15 inches.
3. Store Your Power Cable and Accessories in the Sleeve
Most laptop sleeves include a small zippered pocket where you can store your charger, external hard drive, mouse, etc. Store your accessories here so they stay protected and don’t get lost.
4. Place the Laptop Sleeve Inside of a Waterproof Bag
You can use something as simple and cheap as a plastic trash bag for this. The goal is to protect the computer from rain and moisture in the air. Whatever type of bag you choose, just make sure that it’s airtight.
For added protection, I recommend you use a dry bag. When properly sealed, dry bags offer enough water protection to be submerged and still stay dry inside.
I like Sea to Summit Lightweight Dry Sacks. They offer a range of sizes and they are surprisingly durable. Which size dry bag you choose depends on the size of your laptop. A 20-liter dry bag should fit most laptops and leave you enough room to store some additional items as well.
5. Wrap the Waterproof Bag in Something Soft for Extra Protection
For additional shock and vibration protection, use some soft items as padding. This way, you get double use out of them. Bulky clothing items like jackets or jeans work well. You could even wrap your sleeping bag around your laptop.
6. Place the Wrapped Up Laptop in Your Rear Pannier
I recommend you store your laptop in your right rear side pannier. This lowers the likelihood of damage or theft for the following reasons:
- When leaning a bike up against a wall, you usually lean it with the drive side against the wall so as to protect your derailleur. This is the right side. If the bike falls over, it will fall on the left side. This way, your laptop won’t have to take as much impact. It also won’t have the weight of the bike sitting on top of it.
- A thief may be less likely to take the pannier that is leaning up against the wall because it’s more difficult to get to.
- The right side pannier faces away from the road (in countries where you drive on the right). If you get sideswiped by a vehicle, your laptop won’t take any damage. Of course, if this happens, you have bigger things to worry about, like your health.
The best place to put your laptop within the pannier is on the side that is close to the rack. This way, if you take a spill, your laptop has a better chance of survival because the outside of the pannier will take the majority of the impact.
For panniers, I like the Ortlieb Back-Roller City Rear Panniers. They are durable, easy to mount, and water-resistant.
7. Fill the Remaining Space in the Pannier
I like to store my laptop in the pannier where I store my clothes because they are lightweight. This pannier will be pretty heavy with the weight of your laptop so you’ll want to pack it with lightweight items to avoid throwing your bike out of balance.
If you have any room left after packing your clothes and laptop in the pannier, you can fill the space with dry or soft items. Avoid packing any liquids, your toiletries kit, or messy foods in this pannier just to be safe.
8. Secure the Pannier to Your Rear Rack
Make sure the pannier is mounted securely so it doesn’t bounce off while riding over rough sections of road. For added security, some cyclists use a cable or rope to secure the pannier to the rack. This way, if the clips fail, the pannier hopefully doesn’t fall to the ground.
Some pannier brands allow you to install an extra clip to mount the pannier even more securely. This way, if one clip fails, your pannier won’t fall off. Ortliebs allow for this.
9. Avoid Hitting Too Many Bumps While you Tour
While touring with your laptop, you may want to ride a bit more smoothly than you otherwise would. Instead of jumping curbs, get off your bike and lift it over. Try not to hit every pothole. You don’t have to be paranoid about it. Just keep in mind that the vibrations and shocks can cause damage to your laptop if they are severe enough.
Tip: Carry your Laptop in a Backpack Through Rough Sections
The above method works great for road touring where the ride is generally pretty smooth. When the going gets rough, you probably won’t want to store your laptop in your pannier. It will just be bouncing around too much. You don’t want to shake something loose. Vibrations and shocks are major killers of electronic devices.
If you expect to encounter long stretches of rough roads during your tour, I recommend you pack a backpack. Remove the laptop from your pannier and carry it on your back through rough sections. Once you make it back to a smooth road, place the laptop back in your pannier.
This works because your body is much better at dampening vibration and bumps than your rigid bike. Your knees, hips, and shoulders are basically working as shock absorbers for your laptop in this case.
For a backpack, I recommend you go with a lightweight packable day pack. These frameless backpacks allow you to fold them up into themselves while not in use. They take up very little space in your pannier. Look for one that is large enough to accommodate your laptop as well as all other fragile gear such as your camera.
For packable backpacks, I like the Venture Pal Lightweight Packable Daypack. It is surprisingly roomy with a 35-liter capacity yet weighs only .7 pounds (317 grams). It also packs down pretty small. The nice thing about this pack is the fact that it’s large enough to use for day hikes and day trips as well.
Tip: Even if you don’t expect any rough roads on your tour, it’s still a good idea to carry a day pack. It gives you a way to carry your laptop and other valuable items into stores and around town sightseeing when you’re not on the bike. This lowers the likelihood of theft.
How to Carry a Laptop While Bikepacking
The main differences between bicycle touring and bikepacking are the type of terrain you cover and the type of bags that you use. Bikepackers typically travel off-road and use bikepacking bags. These differences make carrying a laptop problematic for 2 reasons.
- Bikepacking bags are either too small or not the right shape for carrying a laptop- Seat packs and handlebar rolls are generally cylindrical. Frame bags are triangular. These aren’t ideal shapes for packing a rectangular slab. Most bikepacking bags are simply too small to accommodate a full-sized laptop.
- Bikepackers usually travel over rough roads or no road at all- This means your laptop experiences a significant amount of shocks and vibration. Your laptop must be well padded or suspended to avoid damage.
After some experimentation, I’ve come up with 7 ways to carry a laptop while bikepacking. In all of these methods, I recommend you prepare your laptop using the same method as outlined in the bicycle touring section of this guide. Basically, you want to do the following:
- Turn your laptop off- You don’t want to damage a spinning hard drive with vibration or shock. Even if your laptop has an SSD, you should still turn off just in case.
- Place your laptop in a padded laptop sleeve- Use the most protective sleeve that you can find. I like using a sleeve with a hard outer shell for additional protection from drops or hard objects.
- Place the padded sleeve inside of a waterproof bag- This could be a garbage bag or dry bag. You want something to shield your laptop from rain and humidity.
- Use your gear as additional padding- Whichever one of the following methods that you choose, use your clothes, sleeping bag, or some soft piece of gear to wrap your laptop in for added protection.
1. Use a Rear Rack and a Bag
Simply pack your laptop up securely as outlined above, then place it in a bag or backpack. You can then attach the bag or backpack to the rear rack using a combination of straps, a net, and bungee cords. This is probably the cheapest and simplest solution. It also works for all laptop sizes.
I recognize that most bikepackers hate the idea of using a rear rack due to the added weight and complexity. It’s also another thing that you have to worry about breaking. Having said this, laptops are heavy. They need some kind of support.
The drawback of this method is the fact that your laptop will endure a lot of shocks and vibration. A rack is a rigid piece of metal that doesn’t offer any dampening or shock absorption. While cycling through particularly rough or bumpy sections, you may want to carry the laptop in a backpack on your back to lower the likelihood of damage. For this reason, a backpack makes the best rear rack bag if you decide to use this method.
2. Use a Carradice Style Seat Bag
These bags attach to the seat just like a bikepacking style seat pack. The difference is the shape. They are rectangular. This allows the larger versions to accommodate a laptop up to around 15 inches.
The largest model is called the Carradice Camper Longflap. The main compartment measures 35cm x 28cm x 23cm. This is large enough for most laptops. The bag can accommodate 24 liters of gear in total.
Because the bag is so large and heavy, you’ll need some sort of rack to hold it. Otherwise, it just hangs down from your saddle and swings around. Carradice offers a couple of racks that mount from the saddle rails. Alternatively, you could just use a rear rack to support the bag.
Check out Carradice’s website for more info.
If you’re handy with a sewing machine, you can make your own rear rack bag. Check out this DIY longflap saddlebag guide from Bikepacking.com for more info.
4. Use a Front Basket to Carry your Laptop
Baskets are becoming more and more popular among bikepackers. Even though they are a rack, they can accommodate a significant amount of gear and just look kind of cool.
Simply pack up your laptop as outlined above and place it in the basket. Secure it with straps, a net, or bungee cords. Of course, your laptop will have to be small enough to fit in the basket that you choose. This probably works best for laptops that are in the 13 inch or smaller range. Larger baskets are also available.
This method has the same drawback as using a rear rack. The basket is rigid and doesn’t offer any shock absorption. When you hit a bump, it is transmitted directly through the rack to the laptop. For this reason, you may wish to use a backpack while traveling over particularly rough terrain to avoid damage.
5. Carry a Small Laptop
A small laptop in the 12 inch range or smaller may fit in one of your bikepacking bags. Prepare the laptop up as outlined above and try packing it in each bag to find where it fits best.
The ideal place to carry a small laptop is in the frame bag. This is the best location to store a heavy and fragile item like a laptop. Your frame bag also offers protection on all sides in the event of a crash. Whether or not your laptop fits here depends on the size and shape of your bike’s frame and size of your laptop.
Alternatively, you could try packing your laptop in your handlebar roll. This is another good choice due to the suspension that most handlebar bags offer. Consider packing the laptop wrapped in your sleeping bag for more protection.
Your seat pack is probably the worst place to pack your small laptop due to the weight. Because seat packs don’t have supports or frames, they tend to swing back and forth when they are loaded with too much weight.
The exception to this is is if you use a Carradice style seat bag as outlined above. These utilize a support system attached to the seat which allows you to carry more weight.
6. Carry Your Laptop in a Backpack
This is a simple, cheap option that a lot of bikepackers choose. A backpack works best for those who plan to ride off road most of the time. The benefit of carrying your laptop in a backpack is the fact that it greatly reduces the amount of vibration and shock that your laptop has to endure. Your joints act like suspension. When you hit a bump, your body takes the impact rather than the laptop. A good backpack helps to dampen shocks as well.
Carrying your laptop in a backpack has a couple of drawbacks. First, it’s uncomfortable. Wearing a backpack while cycling puts additional weight on your wrists, hands, butt, shoulders, and back. This weight causes you to tire out more quickly. You’ll definitely feel the extra weight during a long ride. It could even cause damage in the long term if you overload your backpack.
The second problem is the fact that you’ll sweat a lot more. You lose a significant amount of heat from your back. The heat can’t escape as easily if you’re wearing a backpack. This can cause you to overheat if you’re not careful.
The best cycling backpack that I’ve tried is the Osprey Radial 26. It includes a padded pocket large enough to accommodate a 15 inch laptop. The ventilation system helps to keep your back cool. This backpack also uses Osprey’s excellent suspension systems which makes a heavy load feel much lighter than it actually is. If you have to cycle with a backpack, this is one of the more comfortable options available.
7. Use Panniers
This is probably the most practical option. Even though most bikepackers don’t like to use panniers or racks, they do work well if you need to carry a laptop.
Bikepacking specific panniers are available which have a more narrow profile so you can more easily push your bike when necessary. They are also designed to stay attached better while riding rough terrain.
You’ll still probably want to carry your laptop in a backpack while riding really rough sections while bikepacking to protect it from shocks and vibration.
Do Without a Laptop While Bikepacking
This is a great option for shorter trips up to a couple of weeks. Unless you absolutely need a laptop for work, you can probably do without. This way, you don’t have to worry about it getting damaged, broken, or stolen while you’re on tour. Another benefit to leaving your laptop at home is the fact that it cuts at least a couple of pounds of gear from your setup.
As an alternative to a laptop, you can simply use your phone for most tasks. You could also pack a small tablet. These can easily fit in your frame bag or handlebar bag. They can also accomplish most of the same tasks as a laptop, just with a bit more difficulty. On shorter trips, I just leave my laptop at home.
The Best Laptops to Carry for Bicycle Touring and Bikepacking
When shopping for a laptop to use for bicycle travel, the most important feature is durability. This thing is going to take a beating. You also want to choose a laptop that’s on the smaller side. It will be much lighter and easier to pack. The maximum laptop size you’ll want to carry while bicycle touring or bikepacking is 13 inches. All of the following laptops meet these requirements.
This windows computer is ideal for bicycle touring and bikepacking. The Surface Pro series offers the performance of a laptop with the size of a tablet. They feature a keyboard cover so you can use the computer as a tablet or laptop. They offer long battery life and weigh just 1.7 pounds. I’m planning to buy one of these when my current laptop bites the dust.
I’m not really an Apple guy, but I do admit that their hardware is top-notch. I’ve met quite a few bicycle tourists and travelers who carry a 13 inch Macbook Air. They all seem happy with their choice. I haven’t met anyone who’s had any durability problem related to carrying their Macbook on their bike either.
If you’re on a tight budget and don’t need the most powerful computer, you may be happy with a Chromebook. The best thing about these is that they’re cheap. If your Chromebook gets broken or stolen during your tour, you’re not out too much money.
I like this Lenovo C330. It’s compact and lightweight yet powerful enough to complete most tasks that a full-size laptop can. It’s also affordable.
Travel Insurance for Bicycle Touring or Bikepacking
For long tours, you may want to consider purchasing travel insurance for additional protection for your laptop and other belongings. The insurance company probably won’t cover you if your laptop breaks due to water damage or shock. They will cover you in the event of a theft, which is probably more likely anyway.
You’ll want to shop around for the travel insurance that offers you the most protection. I like World Nomads. I have used them for almost all of my international trips and have had good experience with them. For more info, check out my travel insurance page here.
Final Thoughts on Carrying a Laptop While Bicycle Touring or Bikepacking
If you can get away without a laptop, you’re probably better off leaving it at home. It’s just an expensive, heavy, and fragile piece of gear that you always have to worry about. It can easily get destroyed due to excessive exposure to bumps or moisture. It’s also a target for theft.
If you have to carry a laptop as I do, hopefully, one of the above methods work for your purposes. As long as you pack it carefully and carry it in a backpack through rough sections and while off the bike, your laptop should survive your trip just fine.
If you’re unsure about whether or not you want to bring a laptop, check out my guide to the pros and cons of travel with a laptop.
Do you carry a laptop while bicycle touring or bikepacking? Share your experience in the comments below!
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